HONOLULU (KHON2) — School starts Monday for thousands of keiki in the state. Public school officials and teachers said one of their main goals this year is to bridge the gap in education caused by the pandemic.

With just three days until school begins, teachers like Shelby Tominaga at Ma’ema’e Elementary School are busy preparing.

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“Super excited,” Tominaga said. “There’s lot of things to do so I’m a little anxious, but I’m really excited to see the kids.”

Taycyn, who’s going into the third grade, stopped by to drop off school supplies with his family and said he’s also excited to start school Monday.

KHON asked, “What are you most looking forward to this school year?”

“Having fun,” Taycyn said.

Ma’ema’e Elementary School Principal Lenn Uyeda said that eagerness to be back in the classroom is invaluable.

“Just getting back into that mode of enjoying school, enjoying education, enjoying coming to school, I believe once they’re in school the gains will happen,” Uyeda said.

According to the Department of Education, data from the last school year showed more than 32% of students in elementary and middle school were two or more grade levels behind in math and English. The dip attributed to the pandemic and distance learning.

The focus now is getting kids back on track and reacclimated.

One of the biggest changes for students, particularly those in elementary school, will be the return to group activities and sitting in pods.

Tominaga said group interaction contributes so much to their education.

“It’s super important for the kids to hear from each other and how they think things through and solve problems rather than hearing how I think they should solve the problem,” Tominaga explained. “Cause it might be something that they didn’t realize themselves. So it helps them solve things in a new way.”

Third grade teacher Audrey Nagakura said they will also be able to incorporate more hands on tools to boost math skills.

“I think a lot of the kids missed that when they were on distance learning with the manipulatives and just touching things,” Nagakura said.

According to Uyeda, they’re offering multiple tutoring and enrichment programs to get the kids back on track.

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“We do have a lot of after school programs that support education with science and tutoring and what not any way possible we try to expand on the supports we have for the kids,” said Uyeda.